by Jini Stolk

A lot of readers commented on “If working in a nonprofit means you’ll never earn a living…” indicating, I believe, that I touched on the elephant in the room of arts employment.

I was reminded that the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres instituted a shared contribution pension plan for theatre professionals many years back. Although it didn’t last long (companies’ budgets were tight; employees didn’t want to contribute towards their far-in-the-future retirements) people who participated are now grateful for this small but helpful income supplement.

An associate studying cultural management in Hong Kong has been pondering the fact that nonprofit organizations, with their heavy fundraising and donors reporting obligations, don’t seem to have the time and resources to reinvest in their companies, as for profits do. “In fact, where I work right now (Public Art Hong Kong), we do art consulting work as one of the profit making streams to support our organization. Some commercial projects include The Peninsula Hong Kong Gala Projection and (an art and fashion exhibition at the) Lanvin Flagship Store. Of course the profit making part is still a small part (of our work); the big part is having more high quality artwork in the public.” It seems that in Hong Kong an early question posed to cultural entrepreneurs is “How are you going to make a profit?”

The visual arts, whose distribution system is largely for profit, has been introducing interesting online social enterprises, including Artbinder, which facilitates sales for galleries, the online auction house Artsy – and the Centre for Social Innovation’s Wondereur, a curated site featuring different visual artists and their work, which can be purchased directly from an iPad, iPhone or computer. (Breaking news. Wondereur has just been nominated for a Webby Award – the Oscars of the web, I am told – as one of the five best art platforms in the world. If they win, it would be a first for a Canadian art platform.)

The Theatre Centre’s opening – attended by artists from the five founding theatre organizations – was a good reminder of a basic but important strategy for effectively and efficiently using resources: sharing. Tonya Surman writes about building social entrepreneurship through the power of shared space , in an article for the Innovations Journal. “Coworking spaces connect diverse organizations and individuals, giving them the chance to collaborate, share knowledge, and develop systemic solutions to the issues they are trying to address.” That’s why I’m hoping to see great advances in shared audience development and engagement from Regent Park’s Daniel Spectrum and Artscape’s Youngplace!

Some further reading: “Social Enterprise: Making the Choice Between For-Profit and Nonprofit”

Although I’m devoted to strengthening the nonprofit sector in Ontario through my work as Chair of the Ontario Nonprofit Network, I can’t help but observe that young people these days are choosing to work within whatever structure is most suited to achieving their missions: and I’m all for it.

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